You need to record game footage on a shoe string budget. Yet every freeware solution you’ve used has been pretty bad in one respect or another. Enter PlayClaw.
PROS: Fairly inexpensive when compared to AAA budget suites, with some great features.
CONS: Only works with PC games at this time. Cannot (Currently) broadcast to live feeds.
What’s that?: There is a freeware version to test the waters.
As far as utilities go, I’m not a big time enthusiast. I simply do not have the same level of creativity or resources many outlets, other bloggers, or internet celebrities do when it comes to video editing. However, I have toyed with the idea of doing video reviews at some point should I become proficient enough that I can have some voice over, a few clips, and maybe a couple of nice title cards. But the first step to any video endeavor is even getting footage in the first place.
Hopping on your favorite search engine, and researching for awhile will net you some free solutions. However, in my experience with many of them there are big problems. Virtualdub for instance will encode video, but at least in my case audio, and video didn’t sync properly. Other times videos would have a warped “Fish Eye” look as if the POV settings were altered in some way. (As an aside, I did find the program was nice for making animated gif files. But not something you’ll want for capturing things.)
Other free titles were archaic, with everything all over the place, and others were very confusing in their menus, and options.
From there I had to realize I would need to buy something. Until now, FRAPS has always been regarded as the de facto starting point. To be fair, FRAPS deserves it’s credit. It is great for benchmarking games with it’s counter. It takes some nice photos that don’t suffer the compression level of other programs like Steam’s overlay taker. It’s also fairly inexpensive, and it’s overall fairly reliable.
PlayClaw builds upon what FRAPS does. It’s currently in it’s 5th iteration, and it has a very nice, simple, and easy to understand layout. You can change settings of the encoder, the kind of video file to save under, the ideal frame rate cap, among other things. The audio sources tab will let you configure your headset, microphone, and webcam settings when you use them. Screenshots is a tab where you can go in, and change what format your images are.
The overlay tab is going to be the most used one for anyone who uses this software. Like Fraps, you can get your FPS counter going, along with CPU performance, GPU performance, temperature gauges, and so on. In addition to all of that however, PlayClaw adds in the ability for players to mark players by TeamSpeak handle during recording. This is handy for times where you may need to identify others in your group for a video project. It also includes a Picture In Picture overlay for your webcam. So if you want people to see you in the video as you are playing, and commentating it’s there. Interestingly however, you don’t have to use this overlay if you want to do your commentary while playing as the microphone will still record anything you say. This is again, very good in the instance where perhaps you want to have spoken commentary, but don’t want to show up on camera for whatever reason. I also really love the fact that you can put a still image over your video if you wish. This is especially nice if you want to have an added dash of professionalism to your footage by displaying your channel’s logo for instance. Or if you do vlogs, or let’s plays, and want the world to know you were the one who took the footage.
There is a keybind tab where you can remap controls for the software as well, and you can also set up folders for your screenshots, and footage to save to. Rounding out the tabs are your ability to set up profiles in the software for multiple users on a single machine. General settings for placing the icon on the taskbar, or desktop, and regional language. Finally, there are a help menu, and a blacklist icon. Which seems to be for blocking processes from running in case of a complication.
All in all, it is a pretty good alternative to FRAPS, and it does go a long way to put in features to help those who like to do vlogs, and let’s plays. With the commentary tools involving the microphone, and webcam, it’s hard not to want to recommend it. There are a few things you will really wish it did better. One is performance. It never performs terribly, but in my case having used it for a month or two I have noticed in any intensive game it will put a big drain on the resources the game uses. So if you have an older PC I would suggest only recording footage if you turn down a lot of the settings in these games so that you can maintain a playable frame rate.
This is especially true for those of you trying to do “How to win” types of videos. You’ll want to be doing more than 30fps while recording it even though YouTube, Blip, Justin, or whatever other service you use may cut it down to 30 anyway. Otherwise your footage may be you losing a lot. For those running on the i5/i7 families or an AMD chipset that’s within the last two years, you’ll probably be fine so long as your computer has enough memory in it.
The only other issues I think those in the camp of doing let’s plays may have, is that PlayClaw does NOT broadcast. So for those who like to live stream their let’s plays, you’ll need to find a different solution. The developer is currently working on a way to get the software to do so, but there is no word on when it will happen, or if it will be a patch for the current version, or if it will be a feature in the next version.
Secondly, this title does NOT capture footage from consoles. One day it might be able to, but one would also need a capture card for the PC anyway, and capture cards will almost always include a fairly robust suite for doing so. So for those hoping to get their 360 footage with it, again need to look elsewhere.
Overall though, PlayClaw is really good at what it DOES do. If you’re a PC Gamer who loves to post vlogs, and let’s plays to your YouTube account with ease it will fit the bill. Reviewers will still need to buy a mainstream solution in order to edit the footage, but should have no complaints with the video quality. It’s a solid product worth the asking price. But if it could add streaming, and capture card support in a patch in the near future it could become quite the contender.
PlayClaw can be purchased direct or on Steam. There is also a free trial available to see if it’s right for you.
Final Score 8 out of 10.